Samuel Ngumo Kamau cannot dispel the images of burning houses and Kenyans killing each other from his mind – a key factor in his decision not to return to his home of nearly four decades in Burnt Forest area in Rift Valley Province.
Kamau, a father of 10, who hails from Kamuyu Farm in Burnt Forest, has little trust in the government, which he accuses of “watching and doing nothing” while armed gangs violently ejected him and thousands more from their rich agricultural lands soon after presidential election results were announced in December 2007.
Having experienced the same tortuous treatment every election year since 1992 when the region repeatedly bore the brunt of tribal violence, he feels “enough is enough”.
“In 1992, they [tribal warriors] burnt down mine and my neighbours’ houses, killed and injured many people and stole our livestock and property," Kamau told IRIN. "We fled and later returned but the same community was at it again in 1997 and 2002.”
If he had his way, Kamau says, he would rather the government compensate him with an alternative piece of land away from the violence-prone area. In early May, the government launched an ambitious programme to resettle up to 158,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had been living in camps since the violence erupted.
Kamau lives at an IDP camp in Ruring’u Stadium in Nyeri, the main town in Central Province. He is one of thousands of IDPs who have sought refuge in their so-called ancestral homeland in Central.
Claims of partiality
Security personnel, including regular and administration police and the local chief, Kamau says, failed to offer his community protection, siding with the aggressors instead. Without any options, thousands set off on a long journey to nowhere.
“We sought shelter in the school compound following an orgy of killings and plunder the night the [election] results were announced," he said. "The following day, hundreds of youths armed with bows, arrows and machetes, and I think guns, followed us there ... the police who turned up said they could do little for us. Indeed, some openly told us to leave as the mob shared livestock and other property we had salvaged.”
Asked whether he would return home now since the government's launch of Operation Rudi Nyumbani (Operation Return Home), Kamau said: “Go back where? I do not feel like going back to Burnt Forest. Only death awaits us there.”
Photo: Waweru Mugo/IRIN
|Relief food being distributed at the Ruring'u stadium in Nyeri|
His view was shared by many IDPs at the Ruring’u camp. With reports of violence and even deaths among returnees, many, like Kamau, are digging in, urging the government to resolve their security concerns and resettle them elsewhere.
Samuel Mugoya, chairman of the Ruring’u IDP camp, said: “When I tried going back to my farm in Solai [Nakuru District] in March, a gang of six armed men invaded my home and I was lucky to escape. I do not think there will be much change in the hostilities. I can forfeit my one acre in Solai in exchange for government land elsewhere so that my wife and children will not risk death at the hands of tribal militias.”
With at least 350,000 displaced at the height of the post-election violence, and more than 1,200 killed, Mugoya is urging the government to give all IDPs start-up capital and construction material, seeds and farm implements, besides compensation for losses incurred in the chaos.
His biggest fear is that the worst is not yet over and people who return home, especially in the Rift Valley, risk tribal-related attacks from “host” communities.
The deputy Central Provincial Commissioner, Wenslas Ong’ayo, however, ruled out any government acquisition of IDP land in exchange for alternative land in "safe havens".
Speaking in Nyeri, Ong’ayo said: “We haven't reached that level; we do not want to Balkanise this country by resettling particular communities only in certain places. IDPs must beware of conmen going round purporting to represent government and registering people for alternative resettlement in Laikipia District.”
The Kenya Red Cross Central region’s relief field officer, Martin Muteru, said as at 13 May, the region was hosting at least 83,000 IDPs, most of whom were living with friends and relatives. Others are in camps in Ruring’u, Ol Kalou, Ndunyu Njeru, Nyaituga, Ndundori and Kirathimo.
Muteru said the resettlement programme was voluntary. However, there have been claims of forced returns. “A majority of IDPs in the region are not ready to go back at all to their farms in the Rift Valley. They wish to dispose of their land and suggest the government acquires their property [land] and in turn settles them elsewhere,” he said.
Photo: Waweru Mugo/IRIN
|Sharing distributed food at the Ruring'u IDP camp|
Muteru also called for dialogue between the various communities to reassure IDPs returning home of their security. However, said Kamau: "I don’t think it will be possible for us to forgive one another ... how do I react when I come across someone herding my goats or milking my cows?”
Faced with a looming food crisis, the government is keen to have the IDPs return home and resume nation-building, especially in the Rift Valley, the country's bread basket. A large number of IDPs across the country lived in the Rift Valley, the largest province.
Ong’ayo said the government wanted IDPs to return home "and live a fruitful life; however, we are not forcing people to go back".
The government is helping those returning home by providing food and non-food items.
While saying that those keen to return would get help, Ong’ayo was non-committal regarding full compensation for victims of violence.
However, reactions to the government's position have been mixed. Some IDPs feel that once they leave the camps for their homes, they may not receive any compensation; hence many are reluctant to leave.
"Compensation will be a token, something to start you off ... the government will also provide shelter, items like utensils, but not necessarily equivalent to what was lost,” Ong’ayo told IRIN.